Thomas Lux – Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

I first met Thomas Lux in June of 2008 when I attended the Summer Writers Seminar at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY. I was one of 10 poets in his workshop for the week. In addition to being a fantstic poet, he is also a great teacher and runs an amazing workshop. One of my poems that we workshopped and revised over that week was later accepted by Passages North Magazine for their Winter 2010 issue.

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy can be found in his book Half Promised Land (1986) and in New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995 (1997). Tom Lux read this poem at the faculty reading at SLC, and when I attended the Bear River Writers Conference this past summer, Dorianne Laux recited this poem in our first workshop. It has been added to my personal anthology and has become one of my favorites…

Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy

For some semi-tropical reason
when the rain falls
relentlessly they fall

into swimming pools, these otherwise
bright and scary
arachnids. They can swim
a little, but not for long

and they can’t climb the ladder out.
They usually drown—but
if you want their favor,
if you believe there is a justice,
rewards for not loving

the death of ugly
and even dangerous (the eel, hogsnake,
rats) creatures, if

you believe these things then
you would leave a lifebuoy
or two in your swimming pool at night.

And in the morning
you would haul ashore
the huddled, hairy survivors

and escort them
back to the bush, and know,
be assured that at least these saved,
as individuals, would not turn up

again someday
in your hat, drawer,
or the tangled underworld

of your socks, and that even—
when your belief in justice
merges with your belief in dream—
they may tell the others

in a sign language
four times as subtle
and complicated as man’s

that you are good,
that you love them,
that you would save them again.

Thomas Lux

One of the perks of the SLC seminar is that we play softball on Tuesday and Thursday during the week. I was on his team in 2008 and on the opposing team in 2009. Here we are at one of the June 2008 weekly softball games:

(I hope he forgives the 3 home runs I hit against his team this summer)

Here is his Bio from Thomas Lux was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, in 1946. He was educated at Emerson College and The University of Iowa. His books of poetry include:

God Particles (Houghton Mifflin, 2008);
The Cradle Place (Houghton Mifflin, 2004);
The Street of Clocks (2001);
New and Selected Poems, 1975-1995 (1997), which was a finalist for the 1998 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize;
The Blind Swimmer: Selected Early Poems, 1970-1975 (1996);
Split Horizon (1994), for which he received the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award;
Pecked to Death by Swans (1993);
A Boat in the Forest (1992);
The Drowned River: New Poems (1990);
Half Promised Land (1986);
Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy (1983);
Massachusetts (1981);
Like a Wide Anvil from the Moon the Light (1980);
Sunday (1979);
Madrigal on the Way Home (1977);
The Glassblower’s Breath (1976);
Memory’s Handgrenade (1972);
The Land Sighted (1970).

Thomas Lux also has edited The Sanity of Earth and Grass (1994, with Jane Cooper and Sylvia Winner) and has translated Versions of Campana (1977).

Lux has been the poet in residence at Emerson College (1972-1975), and a member of the Writing Faculty at Sarah Lawrence College and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers. He has also taught at the Universities of Iowa, Michigan, and California at Irvine, among others. He has been a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award in Poetry and has received three National Endowment for the Arts grants and a Guggenheim Fellowship.


11 Responses to “Thomas Lux – Tarantulas on the Lifebuoy”

  1. Love it! Intense and curious (both the poem and me reading it).

  2. Alison (blueraven95) Says:


  3. Cool. I love a poem that speaks to our sense of empathy, how much we care, and what our relationship is to others, even if it is an other we normally think of as scary and creepy and something to be avoided.

    This poem brings out a sense of forethought, and kindness, and also order. Life starts out a little chaotic for the tarantulas, but then it isn’t because of the reader/the author. It is a revealed sense of calm orderliness, and it’s even musical in the way it’s presented.

    I can see why this would be a favorite. 🙂

    • paulscotaugust Says:

      Thom, thanks for the thoughtful and, I think, accurate comment. And I love the opening of this poem too, “For some semi-tropical reason…” is all the explanation needed to draw me into the poem…

  4. PJ DeGenaro aka Chorophyll Says:

    Yes. This is wonderful.

  5. Judy aka FloridaJudy Says:

    Very cool. This resonates with me, but then I’ve always *liked* spiders – anything that eats mosquitoes is my friend.

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